Tag Archives: technology

A Fool with a Tool is Still a Fool

By Michael MenardMichael Menard

Any software you implement in your organization should enable or enhance a business process. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe that the software or technology itself is the solution, when in reality, technology is at best 10 percent of the value equation—the other 90 percent is based on the human factor.

Knowing this, it’s no wonder 70 percent of technology implementations fail. In other words, seven out of ten applications that are installed and that companies spend millions of dollars for the implementation aren’t being used one year later. Talk about wasted resources!

How does this happen? All too often, company or department leaders hear about new software and view it as the “next shiny thing.” They call the software provider and say, “We heard you have a great tool and we’d like a demonstration.” The software is certainly seductive with its bells and whistles, but its effectiveness and usefulness depend upon the validity of the information going in and how the people actually work with it. Having a tool is great, but remember that a fool with a tool is still a fool (and sometimes a dangerous fool).

So if technology is not the answer, what is? The answer that will really solve organizational challenges and enable business processes consists of three parts that, when done correctly in conjunction, will lead to long lasting results.

Get the business process design right before you implement any software: The first step to a smart technology implementation is to get clear on what information goes in and what analysis comes out, which has nothing to do with software itself. This is called business process design. Unfortunately, many companies fail to align technology with their processes. That’s because some companies have no processes, while others have a stated process (the one they talk about) and an emergent process (the one they actually do). So what is a business process and how do you design one?

A process is like a recipe. If you have a great recipe for New York-style cheesecake that calls for folding in three eggs one at a time, yet you decide to blend in all three eggs at once, you’ll get a completely different (and probably not very good) end product than if you had followed the directions. Make the recipe again and follow the instructions in the proper order, and your cheesecake will be edible.

If you do anything more than twice in your organization, you should define a process for it. Once you have done so, you should continue to improve upon it. In the absence of a defined and documented process, subsequent actions become experimental. Process design is an investment that’s easy to understand. But while the idea of it usually gets an enthusiastic response, actually doing it gets shelved.

So prior to any software implementation, map out your business processes and define such things as:

  • What do we want from the software?
  • How will this software be used on a daily basis in our organization?
  • Which business processes will the software affect?
  • Who will be using the software?
  • Who has the authority to make decisions about the software and the information it produces?
  • Who will be responsible for inputting the needed data and making sure it’s accurate?
  • Who will be receiving the data and acting upon it?
  • How will the data inform our future business decisions?

The clearer you get on business process design and how the software ties in, the better your results will be.

Choose the right technology: No company can do the things it’s called upon to do without technology, so some sort of technology is a must. We all need tools. If you’ve done step one, you’ll have a clear picture of your business and how the new software must play a role. Now it’s time to analyze your software options and choose the one that complements your business processes and will deliver the results you’ve outlined.

Implement the tool into the organization so it has rapid uptake and the shortest time to value: This third step is the most important because it’s about the human factor and how it impacts any organizational change—and implementing new technology is a big change. Unfortunately, too many companies today are simply doing installations. But “installation,” which means “to put something in place” is very different than “implementation,” which means “to put something into effect or action.” Having a new car in the driveway is nice, but if you can’t drive that car, it doesn’t offer much value.

Implementations often fail because companies forget the human factor. In fact, in most changes, human factors pose the greatest risks to long-term profitability. New knowledge and behavior-adoption drive ROI.

Why is change so difficult? Because most of us like comfort. We may complain about routine, but the majority of folks secretly like it. And almost any organizational change threatens our existing comfort zone. Change requires movement from what we know to what we don’t yet know. Like people, organizational cultures prefer to remain the same. That’s why even changes directed at entire departments or organizations, rather than specific individuals, often meet resistance.

So why bother with change when the odds of success stacked against it? The answer is simple. All businesses must continually change or they will die. The markets demand change; customers demand change. Therefore, you either instigate change or it will happen to you. David Nielson, a leading authority on organizational change says to better prepare your team for change and have a successful implementation, be sure you do the following six things:

  1. Communicate the business case for the change
  2. Identify internal change agents (allies) and engage with them
  3. Educate and support the change agents
  4. Assess adoption readiness
  5. Define and support effective behavior
  6. Execute a communication plan about the change

Remember, implementation will fail unless sufficient time and resources are allocated to the process of learning. These six steps form the foundation of successful implementation. Miss one and you’re asking for trouble.

Make Your Technology Implementations Work: The message is clear: Technology is not the answer. Yes, it’s an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the all-encompassing solution so many people believe it to be. If you just focus on the tool, you may end up the fool; but if you focus on the business, the tool, and the people within the organization who will be using the tool, you’ll be the leader who not only uses technology effectively, but who also sees great gains in productivity and profits.

Michael Menard is the author of “A Fish in Your Ear: The New Discipline of Project Portfolio Management,” and cofounder and president of The GenSight Group, which provides enterprise portfolio management solutions for strategic planning, project portfolio management and business performance optimization. A holder of 14 US patents, Menard has utilized his expertise to advise senior executives at organizations such as Coca-Cola, Cisco and the US Department of Energy. To learn more about Mike Menard please visit http://www.afishinyourear.com.

The Total Cost of Ownership

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love to have the latest, fastest, and most powerful tools and toys, but I hate the time it takes for implementation, requiring that I preempt more important activities to install, fine-tune, and master my new technology. Therefore, I tend to stick with what I have.

However, it became time where I had to buy a new office computer. Given my reluctance to spend time migrating from one computer to the next, I had successfully found reasons to put this off for over a year. But my aging computer was clearly being taxed, so I finally made the switch.

My new computer is much faster, and Windows 7 is a great operating system, with an easy learning curve from Vista. This computer is my first with a DVD burner and my first without a floppy disk drive. Also absent are the modem and parallel port – an oversight on my part, given that my old faithful printer requires a parallel connection.

The cost of the computer breaks down to about 50 percent for hardware and 50 percent for software (Windows and Office) – and 50 percent for unforeseen expenses. Yes, there were costs overruns. I’ve had to upgrade several of my other programs to work with Windows 7. Aside from my parallel printer, my other printer lacks a Windows 7 driver. Although I have temporary workaround solutions for both, a new printer is in my future as well. That will push the cost overruns even higher.

My other frustration is with Office 2010, specifically Word. Had I been using Office 2007, the switch would have been easy, but my migration is from Office 2003. For my prior computer upgrade, I purposely retained Office 2003. The user interface on Office 2007 was quite different (a learning curve issue) and cumbersome to use (an efficiency issue). I had hoped that the 2010 version would return to an Office 2003 type of interface, but that was not the case.

With Office 2003 showing its age, I made the leap to 2010. Despite my frustrations that common routine tasks now require more mouse clicks, I am discovering new features, pleasing improvements, and some nice shortcuts, so it will eventually be okay. Even so, two months into it, I am still not as efficient as I’d like to be when I write.

My new computer has cost me both time and money. The cost overruns were my fault: I overlooked the need for a parallel port and all my driver problems stem from the fact that I bought the 64-bit version of Windows (32-bit drivers were available for all my programs). The time issue, however, was unavoidable. Fortunately, I scheduled my purchase during a slower period of the year. This afforded me extra time to spend converting to the new system and learning new software versions.

Upgrading a single PC pales in comparison to replacing technology in throughout an office or workplace, but I don’t want to discourage anyone from doing that; the benefits are just too great. What I do want to communicate is to be extra careful in spec’ing the system and allow additional time to learn it and become proficient. The results will be well worth it.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Does Anyone Really Like Speech Recognition?

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

I’m a huge fan of technology — and the allure of speech recognition (also called IVR or interactive voice response) carries with it great appeal. Yet when it comes to real-life implementations, I find it decidedly lacking and frustration-filled.

In the past I’ve been reticent to state my disinclination — knowing that I’m part of the problem: my words often lack clarity. Clearly, I don’t make a speech recognition engine’s job easy.

Some errors are easily explainable given my imprecise speaking tendencies, such as asking for Candy Lane and ending up with Cam DeLain. However, other occurrences are nonsensical, making for a great comedy skit, albeit poor customer service. For example:

“Good morning, Acme Call Center; your call is important to us. Please say the department or name of the person you are calling.”

“Sally Pavasaris” I dutifully respond.

“Did you say “Ned Flanders?”

“NO,” I exclaim! Nothing happens. “Sal-ee-Pa-va-sar-is,” I decidedly project using my best possible diction.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Please say the department or name of the person you are calling.”

“Agent!” I implore. “Operator!” I beg. I begin pressing zero with repeated vigor. When I’m finally connected to a person, my demeanor is less than stellar. I know why, but the agent is clueless, likely muttering about rude customers after she transfers my call.

To further complicate matters, what if I don’t know the person’s full name? What if I can’t pronounce their last name? Speech recognition is ill equipped for such situations.

Another common issue that I have is a quandary on how to proceed when the software and I talk at the same time. A common dilemma is:

“Please say your account number…”

“Seven,” I begin.

“…followed by the pound sign,” the voice continues.

At this point I have a critical decision to make, the ramifications of which could have frustrating consequences. Do I assume that “seven” was recognized, allowing me to confidently proceed in giving my account number? Or should I play it safe and repeat the first digit? If I guess wrongly even more time will be wasted attempting fruitless communication with a machine. Either way, I’ll inevitably hear: “I’m sorry; that number is invalid; please try again.”

Sometimes I try to suppress my impatient tendencies (why am I patient with people and impatient with machines?) and wait to make sure the voice is done talking. Sometimes I pause too long, at which point I’m rewarded with the unappreciated prompt, “Please respond now.”

To avoid causing the voice further frustration, I quickly comply. This usually results in the situation I was attempting to avoid in the first place — the machine and I simultaneously speaking. At this point things usually spiral further out of control. The software still doesn’t know my account number, I still don’t know when to speak and when to listen, and I’m sensing that the likelihood of talking with a real person — versus talking to a machine trying to act like a person — is even more unlikely then when I started the call.

It is true that a careful speech recognition implementation can serve to speed up call processing and improve caller satisfaction. Sadly, that goal is not often realized. Instead, grandiose efforts are attempted, with little to show for it — aside from frustrated customers and unnecessarily maligned telephone agents and customer service personnel. Is that the intended result of technology?

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Why Area Codes Change

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

As telephone numbers are assigned, the availability of numbers within an area code diminishes. In order to make sure that there are always numbers available, usage is analyzed, number exhaustion dates are projected, and steps are taken to provide for more numbers.

Although short-term steps can be taken to deal with and respond to this, the long-term solution is either an area code split or an area code overlay. Both methods accomplish the same goal of making more numbers available; however, each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

An area code split means that the geographic region of the area code is divided in two. One part will keep the same area code, while the other section must switch to a new area code (but everyone will retain their seven-digit number). There is a transition period for this, called permissive dialing, in which either the old or new area code can be dialed for the effected section. After a time, mandatory dialing goes into effect. At this point, any call to the new region using the old area code will not go through. These numbers eventually become available for reuse. Splits are not popular with businesses, as it requires printing new stationary, changing all advertising, and many other changes, including reprogramming phone systems. (In rapidly growing areas, to avoid the need to repeat this process in a few years, sometimes a three-way split is made at the same time. This divides an area into three sections, one retaining the original area code and the other two each getting their own new area code.)

An area code overlay means that a new area code is assigned to the same geographic region as the existing code(s), which is running out of numbers. With an overlay, no one needs to change area codes. However, if it is not already implemented, ten-digit dialing becomes required for all calls, even local numbers. All new number assignments are in the new area code. As such, ordering a second line could result in a number with a different area code. Overlays are not popular with most consumers, as they do not want to dial ten digits on every call, nor remember different area codes for friends and neighbors.

If you are in area that is running out of phone numbers, you can expect your local phone company to provide ample notification in the form of letters or bill inserts, giving you time to make the needed plans and adjustments. However, do not expect to be notified of changes outside of your area code. Therefore, if your area code changes, it is up to you to notify those who call you from outside your area. Likewise, others will need to notify you should their area code change.

Dealing with new or changing area codes is not easy or enjoyable, but it is necessary to ensure that there is an adequate supply of numbers for future growth.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.